I just got back from HIMSS, a conference for Health IT attended by roughly 47,000 people. It’s insanely busy and a bit like attending CES 20 years ago. As I was walking by one of the thousand or so booths, an older salesman was corralling a crowd announcing via loudspeaker “the computer presentation will begin in 5 minutes!” It was cute.
You could surely tell there’s been a recent $30 billion injection of cash into the health IT industry thanks to Obamacare. There was a competition of Trump proportions as the Big Guys were there to impress with the size of their technology footprint amongst the hundreds of healthcare systems here in America. The injection of cash hopes to be a good thing.
However, the most glaring issue of HIMSS was the complete lack of services in the industry. The conference was chock full of technology in search of a missing service. There were new tech tools to help someone, somewhere in the healthcare system with “population health management or care coordination, this year’s buzzwords of HIMSS. The sheer number of telehealth and EMR vendors proved that it’s so cheap to build technology anymore, software alone is a commodity. There is nothing stopping anyone from copying the feature set, making it better, cheaper, and faster. And they will do that.
Healthcare is fundamentally a service. A service is typically a human-powered, and increasingly technology-enabled experience that occurs online and/or in real life. Think about an Emergency Room. It’s a physical experience with a computerized backend doing its best to optimize billing and care. But the patient never really sees the computerized backend. All they see is the mayhem that is today’s typical ER experience. The only way they interface with the ER’s computers is when they receive bills a few weeks after the ER visit.
The last time I was in the ER, it was so busy I was sitting in the hallway right next to a woman there for a women’s health issue. I knew this because the nurse kneeled down beside her/me and asked her a series of questions about her sexual practices and sexual history. Needless to say, healthcare isn’t known for its design of elegant in-person experiences and processes. And therein lies the rub. As technology gets cheaper and cheaper to develop, health IT companies are springing up left and right and supported by an unprecedented amount of venture capital money. But if those new companies are strictly technology, their technology will be bought and implemented by an industry with possibly the worst service track record in our country.
In a truly elegantly designed service, the technology seamlessly supports an efficient process that delights users, both patients and doctors. It is twice as hard to design and build a service than technology alone because services require building a team of exceptional people and iterating on the processes. It’s something that takes many years to get right. Do the traditional healthcare incumbents have a track record of delivering anything close to a seamless and elegant service?
That’s why the most successful and exciting new verticals in healthcare are standalone services that power the entire online and real life experience that meet today’s consumer expectations. They’re designed from the ground up to utilize their homegrown technology built with today’s expectations. Their platforms are built with the philosophy that their technology should have robust APIs that integrate with other services. First, there’s Sherpaa, a nationwide, first point of contact for patients (a “311 for healthcare”) which diagnoses and manages online, without in-person visits, 70% of acute and chronic primary care issues. But for the other 30% of issues that need in-person visits, Sherpaa refers to on-brand specialists or beautifully designed urgent care centers like CityMD here in NYC. There’s also Zoom Care or One Medical who have designed technology from the ground up to power a nice in-person primary care experience for both their doctors and patients. There’s Flatiron Health, for when serious, life-threatening cancer arises and forward-thinking doctors who work for this new generation of services needs to understand the best options for their cancer patients. And to pay for it all, there are new insurance companies like Oscar— a health insurance company that envisioned a friendly, intuitive, beautiful consumer experience that knows in order to compete with traditional health insurance, they have to pay for a fundamentally new, markedly more efficient, and convenient, process of healthcare delivery.
This new generation of online and brick & mortar healthcare services built to power an elegant experience with today’s technology have the potential to band together and leapfrog the antiquated medical industry. However, they’re currently being built in silos and often view each other as competition. And in many ways, they are in competition as they’re competing for the same dollars set aside for “innovation” from forward-thinking employers, unions, or insurance companies. But they all share the same vision for how healthcare should be. They know that today’s medical industry is a bit of a lost cause. So they went off and did their own thing. Their value lies in providing convenient, high quality services; generating clean data that can direct the highest quality care; and enabling lifelong relationships built out of a true connection with their patients. But, occasionally, this new generation of collective services needs access to the expertise of today’s experienced brick and mortar medical centers. They are, and will continue to be, literally life-saving. The incumbents that understand the opportunity to partner and invest in this new networked generation of health services are going to be the ones that remain relevant to a new generation of consumers. They have to see that an army of beautiful new healthcare services have their sights set on their antiquated services that are quickly tiring today’s consumers. They also have to realize that they often do not have the culture of innovation to execute on a fundamentally different and better patient/doctor experience. Realistically, the only way to deliver on this is to partner with this new generation of services and invest. If they don’t, well, they’re going to miss a massive opportunity to bring healthcare into the 21st Century.